The Howard County school board approved yesterday an operating budget that calls for a nearly 10 percent increase over this year's budget, a rise some are saying is too hefty to pass muster when it goes before the Howard County Council in May.
The budget of more than $278 million includes a 2 1/2 percent pay raise for teachers and a nearly 50 percent boost in funding for school athletics, returning the allocation to 1985 levels.
School officials -- who said the budget boost is necessary after years of small increases that did not match inflation -- know they will have a fight on their hands to get the budget approved by the council.
One, who asked not to be identified, said, "There will be blood on the tracks over this one."
County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he thought half of the proposed increase sounded about right.
"It appears high," he said of the 10 percent figure. "I'm hopeful we'll be able to give them a 5 percent increase over this year's budget. It sounds like there will have to be some scaling back."
The County Council will hear testimony on the 1998-1999 spending plan at a public hearing Tuesday and will approve the overall figure for school spending May 26.
School officials then must find places in the budget to make any cuts before the school board approves a final version May 29.
Despite the size of the overall increase proposed, the money for teacher salaries drew fire from the teachers union.
Karen Dunlop, head of the union, said the 2 1/2 percent raise proposed for the average Howard teacher is inconsistent with the increases for other areas of the school budget.
"This doesn't do anything for our competitive position on teachers' salaries," Dunlop said. "It's reasonable in terms of the cost of living but I think the fact is that the school system is going to have to think very hard about this.
"I have a feeling that this year there were just tremendous programmatic needs," she said, adding that the salary scale has made it increasingly difficult to hire teachers in recent years.
The salary increases would place Howard County between 13th and 17th -- depending on which part of the pay scale teachers are in -- in terms of teacher salaries statewide, she said.
"We're going to have to decide whether we're going to add all the bells and whistles or whether we're going to address teachers' salaries," said County Councilman Darrel E. Drown. "I really think we need to address teacher salaries."
Some 89 new teachers would be hired under Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's plan, which sets aside more than $121 million for teacher salaries.
Hickey's budget proposal submitted last month called for a 7.2 percent increase over this year's spending, to nearly $272 million. The budget approved by the council yesterday calls for an additional $6.7 million.
After hearing testimony from the public and holding three work sessions, school board members added spending in several areas -- particularly for salary raises in nearly every department.
Responding to concerns expressed at the public hearing earlier this month, school board members approved yesterday an additional $50,000 for graphing calculators for each county middle school and $3,000 to transport high school students to the county courthouse for mock trials.
Athletic funding changes
They also set aside an additional $57,000 for athletics. If approved, the plan would provide $17,200 for each high school, up from $11,500 this year, said Donald Disney, athletic coordinator for county schools.
But schools would be required to submit to the school system all money they collect for athletic tickets, including annual passes, family passes and booster club passes, he said.
Schools now must submit the gate receipts from sales of tickets for sports events, but many circumvent the requirement by selling passes and funneling money into such things as booster funds, Disney said.
"This new plan makes things more equitable than the gate receipt [method]," he said. "It doesn't allow a school that might be more affluent to have more. That's a good thing. There are a lot of good things about this."
Howard school spending per pupil ranks No. 2 in Maryland behind Montgomery County, according to the State Department of Education. Howard is 11th in spending for administration, fourth in spending on instruction and fourth in spending on special education, the data show.
The board made other changes yesterday, including:
Spending more than $430,000 of this year's school budget surplus -- which totals about $3 million -- on special education instruction.
Setting aside $4,600 for school board member salary increases. The General Assembly is expected to approve a 10 percent increase this month.
Moving two existing teacher positions to the technology magnet program, which will expand to a third high school, Columbia's Oakland Mills High, next year.
Public support critical
"All of these programs have been clamored for by the public," said Stephen Bounds, school board chairman. "They are an essential part of keeping our students in line with the state."
Susan Poole, president of the Howard PTA, said, "It's nice to have an optimistic year for a change, to feel positive about this. Now we need parental support at the county level to get this through. The battle's not over yet."
The school board also approved yesterday a capital budget of nearly $34 million, the same as the plan proposed by Hickey.
The county budget hearing will be at 7: 30 p.m. Tuesday in the Banneker Room of the Howard Building at 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City. Sign-ups to speak at the meeting will start at 6: 30 p.m.
Pub Date: 2/25/98